Asian Music and Dance

Dhrupad and Shock of the New

Dhrupad and Shock of the New was the Darbar Festival’s North & South double billing for Saturday’s final evening performance. Representing the Hindustani Dhrupad… element was the Rudra vina player Jyoti Hegde, while Abhishek Raghuram represented the …Shock of the New.

Much is made of Jyoti Hegde as the sole female player of the Rudra vina (although the subcontinent is pretty big so caution is advised). Rudra is a theonym for Shiva and the instrument is a fretted stick zither with a resonating gourd at each end of the tube. It is played like a yoke ‘slung’ over the left shoulder. It is not the most visually flattering of instruments because of the sightlines it creates or obscures.

Because of the instrument’s sheer physicality and weight, historically it has almost exclusively been associated with male bīnkars, that is, loosely bīn (been) or vina players. Foremost Rudra vina players include Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and Asad Ali Khan, with whom Jyoti Hegde studied. Its rarity value in any recital outside of the subcontinent theoretically maximises a big draw. For example, Z.M. Dagar’s son Bahauddin, with whom she also studied, was an unmissable addition to the Darbar Festival’s 2006 billing. Putting Hegde (pronounced ‘Heg’ray’) on the 2014 bill was indicative of the risks Darbar is prepared to take. It worked.

Accompanying Rudra vina with jori, Punjab’s big cousin of the tabla, was an audacious cross-cultural pairing. However, when he came in on jori, Surdarshan Chana proved a little off-putting with a couple of instances of extraneous, distracting hand gestures. The Purcell Room’s stage mix also settled down – an element that viewers of the concert on Sky Arts and the channels that licence Darbar footage will never experience. Hegde is a different player to, say, Asad Ali Khan. In her opening rāg Multani, a greater concision and clarity would have helped reveal abilities. Dhrupad grants no licence to waffle. That said, the promise shown by her UK debut was great.

According to Dharambir Singh (who, unlike me, attended Carnatic Music Demystified, the vocalist’s Sunday-morning talk), Abhishek Raghuram said that listeners should feel the sound. That is what most listeners do when experiencing unfamiliar music. We go with the flow. In that spirit, Abhishek Raghuram announced or back-announced nothing. That approach sidesteps the South Indian performance convention of giving the name of the rāgam, the rhythm cycle, tempos, the names of composers and compositions (and more).

Abhishek Raghuram comes with pedigree. Grandson of percussion maestro Palghat R. Raghu (whose obituary I wrote in The Independent), clearly he has a keen grasp of rhythmicality. V.V. Ramanamurthy on mridangam (two-headed barrel hand drum) and G. Guruprasanna on kanjira (frame drum) supplied the recital’s percussive side. More than the principal soloist abandoning announcing what is coming next, the one Carnatic concert convention I would love to see the back of is the final/pre-encore interminable percussion variation exchange. Less is more.

The (naturally) unannounced opening song, Tyagaraja’s composition Dudukugala in rāgam Gowla was dynamite. It ranks as one of the most inspirational opening gambits any South Indian musician has ever delivered musically and visually in my presence. The ‘wow factor’ was instantly there. Over the course of the recital that built with humour, out-louds, gasps at audacious and unexpected touches, the ensemble piled on excitements.

One other name needs a good, loud fanfare. Akkarai S. Subhlakshmi had such a deftness of touch and timbre to her violinistics that she added layers of energy to the concert. For me, Abhishek Raghuram and Akkarai S. Subhlakshmi were the freshest, most mind-blowing discovery delivered by Darbar in 2014. 

With particular thanks to Darbar’s Sajni Shah and Sandeep Virdee.



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